Alumnae Insights: Oak Knoll Graduates Illuminate Paths to Professional Success at Annual Career Day

four alumnae posing for pictureAndrea Chu ’10, Seton Hartnett O’Brien ’10, Janel Brown ’14, and Shanyah Saunders ’15 were our honored guests for last week’s annual Career Day assembly. With wit, humor, and thoughtfulness, they shared their career journeys. 

All four took turns answering questions addressed to the whole group and individual questions about their professions and responsibilities. Students were most interested in how they define work/life balance, when they knew for sure what career they wanted to pursue, and what self-knowledge or insight they obtained at Oak Knoll that was most helpful in further education and employment.

With a message of embracing the unknown and focusing on curiosity, exploration, and a willingness to experiment, Chu stated, “Your career path is never a straight line. I have no idea where my career’s taking me – but I like where it’s going so far!”

Chu received her Bachelor of Arts in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. She serves as Director of Impact and ESG at Vital Farms, a pasture-raised egg and butter brand, and leads the company’s environmental and social impact strategy. As a project analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund, she spearheaded new project development to grow the Corporate Partnerships program. She led key collaborations to source crops sustainably and built a pipeline of potential partners, focusing on climate, deforestation, and water quality issues. 

“It’s okay not to know the answers,” added Brown, who holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with a minor in dance from Montclair State University. “Ask questions along the way. It shows that you’re willing to learn and grow and that you’re human because you don’t know everything.”

Brown is a book publishing professional passionate about the performing arts and storytelling. Brown is managing editor for Henry Holt and Company, an adult division of Macmillan Publishers, overseeing the production of a seasonal list of trade fiction and nonfiction titles. She holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with a minor in dance from Montclair State University, where she also volunteered with the campus arts advocacy group. 

“Just chase the things that you like, decide on something, and put one foot in front of the other, and your career will find you,” added Saunders, who graduated from Syracuse with a degree in Information, Management, and Technology from the iSchool. At Syracuse, she held roles such as president of Black & Latinx Information Studies and Support and managing editor of a campus magazine. Beginning her career journey at Ernst & Young as an intern, Saunders transitioned into a full-time Technology Consultant/Frontend Developer role, blending her technical skillset with her creative insight. Today, she is a Product Manager at Hearst Magazines, where she uses her technical-creative identity to shape the digital products and tools of Car and Driver under Hearst Autos. 

O’Brien assured students they would leave Oak Knoll well-prepared for higher education and the competitive job market.

“I felt extremely prepared by Oak Knoll on the work ethic front,” explained O’Brien, who is a litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and has contributed to victories before the U.S. Supreme Court. In her pro bono practice, she represents immigration clients seeking protection through asylum, VAWA, or DACA. She received her Juris Doctor in 2017 from Harvard Law School and her Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from the College of the Holy Cross in 2014. 

Referring to all our scholars in attendance, O’Brien said, “I don’t remember being in a room like this other than at Oak Knoll, where everyone in the room was working that hard and wanted to succeed that badly.”

Chu echoed the sentiment, adding, “Skills-wise, Oak Knoll taught me how to be prepared. And how to prepare for anything. I think that has a lot to do with the work ethic at the school and knowing I did everything I could to get the best outcomes for myself. Oak Knoll instilled a sense of purpose, mission, and values. Being surrounded by people driven and motivated to do better and a sense of community, I think that is something so special.”

We thank these talented and insightful alumnae for being such beautiful examples of people with purpose who are already out there making a difference in the world.

photo of phil ryan